Viking Age treasure hoard discovered on the Isle of Man

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A treasure hoard dating back to the eleventh century has been discovered on the Isle of Man. It includes 87 silver coins, 13 pieces of cut, silver arm-rings or “hack silver” and other artefacts.

The hoard has been declared a Treasure by the Coroner of Inquests on the Isle of Man. It was discovered in April by metal detectorist Kath Giles whilst metal detecting on private land. The discovery marks the third major treasure inquest on the island in less than six months and is Kath’s fourth significant discovery since taking up metal detecting only three years ago.

“This is a wonderful find which helps further our understanding of the surprisingly complex Viking Age economy in the Isle of Man and around the Irish Sea area,” explains Allison Fox, Curator for Archaeology at Manx National Heritage.

Dr Kristin Bornholdt-Collins, an independent researcher and numismatist, has confirmed that the hoard includes pennies minted in Dublin, England, modern day Germany and the Isle of Man itself. On the Irish and Manx coins, the profile of King Sihtric Silkbeard who served as Norse King of Dublin around 989 to 1036 AD can be seen. The other coins included those minted by kings Cnut and Aethelred II of England and also by Emperor Otto I.

Some of the coins have a design called a “long cross” on the other side.  These lines were used to cut the coins when literally only a half-penny was needed. The cut, or hack-silver pieces found with the coins are part of a flexible system of payment, where the value depended on the weight and purity of silver.  It is expected that the coins and the hack-silver have over 90% silver content”.

The Isle of Man has a rich and tangible Viking legacy.  There have been discoveries of other mixed hoards of Viking Age silver coins and hack silver from the Island.  All of these have been the result of deliberate deposition and many with the intention by the original owner to reclaim the hoard material at a later stage.  Very few items of hoard material have been found associated with graves and this is the case for this latest discovery.

“The Northern Mixed hoard is the fourth Viking-Age coin hoard to be found in the Isle of Man in the last fifty years,” says Bornholdt Collins. “It may have been added to over time, like a piggybank, accounting for some of the older coins, though for the most part it is a direct reflection of what was circulating in and around Man in the late 1020s/c. 1030.

“Like the similarly dated, but much larger, Glenfaba deposit, found in 2003, the new hoard might be compared to a wallet containing all kinds of credit cards, notes and coins, perhaps of different nationalities, such as when you prepare to travel overseas, and shows the variety of currencies available to an Irish Sea trader or inhabitant of Man in this period. The two hoards together provide a rare chance to study the contents side by side, right down to the detail of the dies used to strike the coins. Having this much closely dated comparative material from separate finds is highly unusual and essentially “doubles” the value of each find.

“In addition to the array of coins, both hoards contain a significant hack-silver or bullion portion, which would have been weighed out and possibly tested for its quality in the course of transactions. This is generally expected in finds dating to the ninth- and tenth centuries from viking regions, but appears to be a special feature of the later Manx hoards, too. This may be because bullion was especially convenient for international trade since it was practical for any size transaction and was decentralized, a currency without borders or political affiliation; in this sense, it was a modern-day equivalent to a cryptocurrency—we might even say it was something like the original ‘Bit-coin’! It seems only logical, then, that it was so popular in a cosmopolitan trading hub like Man, even several decades into the 11th century, when closely regulated minted silver was well on its way to becoming the norm across Northern Europe”.

Coin of Sihtric Silkbeard – photo courtesy Manx National Heritage

The date of deposition of the latest hoard can be dated fairly closely due to the coin content to around AD 1035.  This is the later era of Viking Age precious metal hoard deposition, as the practice only really lasted for a further forty years or so, with the earliest hoards dating to the AD 950s.

The find represents a medium-sized, discrete hoard of personal wealth, which was probably built up over a period of a few years, perhaps representing a short-term savings account.

The hoard has now gone on display in the new Viking Gallery at the Manx Museum. Click here to learn more about the Manx Museum.

Top Image: The coin hoard. Photo courtesy Manx National Heritage.

This article was originally published in Medievalist.net

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